Kansas farmers face challenges in budding hemp industry

Requires special equipment to harvest and process

July 15, 2018 - 11:28 am

Experts and economists warn that creating an industrial hemp market in Kansas is full of obstacles.

State lawmakers legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp earlier this year, and final regulations are expected later this year.

Industrial hemp and marijuana come from the same species of plant, but hemp is cultivated to produce small amounts of THC, the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.

Hemp can be turned into many items, including food, clothes, insulation and construction materials. However, the plant requires special equipment to harvest and process.

The federal government still views industrial hemp as a dangerous drug, so growers and processors are cut off from traditional banking.

Despite the obstacles and uncertainties, many Kansas farmers and entrepreneurs are interested in the budding industry. Christina Hett from Marion County was one of the dozens that attended one of the Kansas Department of Agriculture's information meetings this spring.

"The farming markets are terrible," Hett said. "It's to the point that we have to find something else."

P.J. Sneed quit his job as nurse in Wichita to become a hemp farmer. He's bought 80 acres of land for the endeavor, but plans to begin with only planting on about 10 acres.

"Everybody's predicting in eight-10 years it to be a $1.5 billion dollar industry," Sneed said. "How do you ignore that?"

Kansas has a history with growing hemp. One year during the Civil War, Kansas produced more bushels of hemp per acre than any other state.

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